Unstorming Sheridan

 

Recently, I've been occupying the Chicago of the present by tracing the Chicago of the past. My unaccustomed anonymity, the city's vastness, and the gritted-teeth resignation of the fall of 2004 have prompted pilgrimages to sites where the faith of long-dead heroes that history would be on their side might be borrowed for a moment.

On November 12, the day after both Veteran's Day and the 118th anniversary of the Haymarket executions, I traced a route by bicycle from the new Haymarket memorial to Fort Sheridan, broadcasting a mournful and distorted "Internationale" at 4 watts all the way there, my signal growing stronger the farther from ClearChannel's downtown antennas I traveled. If the 19th century New York Times was correct and the Haymarket anarchists were a cancer on the social body, my pumping legs and steady heartbeat yearned to metastasize that cancer, allowing it to course through 21st century Chicago streets, mutate the airwaves, and run up to and over the structures built to destroy it.

Monuments and memorials commemorate while isolating, becoming unique shrines where the cult of the event or hero might be observed. Haymarket is not an isolated incident, a fetish for leftist history buffs to contemplate a long-past pivot point where things might have gone otherwise. It is for the Haymarket martyrs that we celebrate May 1st, even if many of us have now forgotten why, but it isn't for them that the mails stop on November 11. Dodging neo-military luxury vehicles for 30 miles, I breathed in the air of today over the land of how we got here.

Fort Sheridan is the bridge between Haymarket and now. Founded on land donated by the Commercial Club of Chicago, Fort Sheridan was designed to guarantee a permanent military presence near Chicago to suppress further labor uprisings. Troops took up residence three days before the executions, and for most of its history, the fort supplied well-trained fodder more for overseas than domestic battles. Even now, with the bulk of the fort re-privatized into expensive North Shore housing, a reserve center prepares 'citizen-soldiers' for indefinite deployment in Iraq. But on Independence Day, 1894, federal troops stormed Chicago to break the Pullman Strike, the closest thing to a general strike this country has ever seen. Just after Veteran's Day, 2004, I unstormed Fort Sheridan.

 

- Sara Kanouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

references:

  • D'Eramo, Marco. The Pig and the Skyscraper: Chicago: a History of our Future. London: Verso, 2003.
  • Executive Documents of the Senate of the US, 3rd Session of the 53rd Congress 1894-1895. "Report of the US Strike Commission." Washington, D.C: Government Printing Office, 1895.
  • Historic Pullman Foundation, Historic Pullman tour, October 3, 2004. Tours offered first Saturday of every month, May-October.
  • http://www.fortsheridan.com
  • Lindsey, Almont. The Pullman Strike: The Story of a Unique Experiment and of a Great Labor Upheaval. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1943.
  • Roediger, David. "The Haymarket Incident." Accessed online at http://www.lucyparsonsproject.org/haymarket/roediger_haymarket.html on November 20, 2004.
  • Schall, Robert. The History of Fort Sheridan, Illinois. The Clerical School and the Visual Training Arts Section, 1672nd Service Unit (US Army), 1944.
  • Smith, Carl. Urban Disorder and the Shape of Belief: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb, and the Model Town of Pullman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.